how to choose a toxin-free sunscreen

Posted on February 27th, 2012

*this post has been updated in red below

Sunscreens confuse me. They’re full of toxins…should I bother with it at all? Zinc? (oooh, but the nano-particles?!)…You too? Good. I did some scouting, asked experts and here’s what I found…just in time for Australia Day!!

photo via bauhaus

A lot of the sunscreens out there do NOT protect us against harmful UV rays, plus they can contain chemicals that affect our hormones, damage our skin, and sometimes increase the risks of skin cancer. Oh, the tedious, messy, modern-life irony of it all! Today’s post is going to try to get to the bottom of the sunscreens that are purposeful AND harmless.

However, my advice, first and foremost, is:

don’t use sunscreen

Covering up with a hat and clothing, and not staying out in the sun too long, is the best tact. No chemicals, no “stuff” and far more economical. But also (and, yes, I know it goes against how we were raised)…

Getting sun, without sunscreen, is actually good. Better than good actually. Recent studies reveal that people who spend more time outdoors without getting sunburnt, actually decrease their risk of developing melanoma. The benefits of Vitamin D exposure (which can only be reaped without sunscreen) actually protect against many types of cancer; including breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal, ovarian, bladder, gallbladder, gastric, pancreatic, prostate, rectal, and renal cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Indeed, more people die of Vitamin D deficiency-based cancers than from melanoma. I’ve written about it previously here.

Get sun every day, but only for 20-40 minutes at a time and, if you’re in Australia, before 10am and after 5pm.

Just don’t get burnt. (In countries with less harsh sunlight, any time of day is fine for sun…and in fact advisable by many doctors these days.)

I get sun every day. BUT I never stay out sunbaking. AND I stay out of the sun in the middle of the day. I personally wear sunscreen ONLY if I’m outside longer than 20 minutes in the middle of the day…the sun here is just too strong. Plus, I generally find that by eating coconut oil – which has an SPF of four – this protects me. You can read more here. So. If you use sunscreen…

non-nano zinc oxide is best

Sunscreens come in two forms:

  • physical sunscreens, containing either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which form a film on top of the skin that reflects or scatters UV light. 

These are your best option.

  • chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV rays before they can do damage.

The Environmental Protection Agency‘s graph below features chemical and physical sunscreen ingredients, as well as the type and amount of ray protection that they provide and their class. Note how zinc oxide fares.


don’t want zinc? what next?

If you’re going for a chemical sunscreen, you need to know this:While chemical sunscreens can protect against damage from UV rays, they can also contain a host of nasty chemicals which are all absorbed through the skin and end up circulating your blood stream. Not Good.

1. Always check the label.

There is a long list of problematic chemicals in sunscreen that we should avoid…too many to absorb, so…

Worst offenders? Dioxybenzone and oxybenzone. These two are some of the most powerful free radical generators around as they can disrupt hormone function.

What about PABA? Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) is common in many sunscreens, acting as a dye that absorbs ultraviolet B (UV-B) light in much the same way as oxybenzone. PABA contains a benzene ring in which electrons can shuffle, or resonate, between different locations within the six-sided structure. This electron dance matches that of the lightwaves of UV-B rays, absorbing and blocking UV-B energy by converting the light to heat.

PABA releases free radicals, damages DNA, has estrogenic activity, and causes allergic reactions in some people. You can read more here and here.

Also … octyl methoxycinnamate:  The main chemical used in chemical sunscreens to filter out ultraviolet B light is octyl methoxycinnamate.

  • OMC kills cells in mice even at low doses.
  • OMC’s also particularly toxic when exposed to sunshine….so a double whammy of stupid pain!

Finally Benzophenone: Nicole Bjilsma, a naturopath, acupuncturist and building biologist, recently blogged about BP,  a sunscreen ingredient which prevents sunlight from breaking down the products in the sunscreen. Nicole says it’s a hormone disrupting chemical that interferes with thyroid function and lowers testosterone, and there are serious concerns about its impact on male fertility. You can follow Nicole’s blog here.

2. Check your sunscreen rating on the EWG.

The Environmental Working Group rates sunscreens (amongst other things) based on safety and how well they protect against UV rays. You can download EWG’s handy tipsheet on what chemicals to avoid in the beauty aisle. But, the info is geared towards the US market. Australia has different regulations (SPF limits etc) and the great majority of the ones the EWG recommend are not available on the Australian market.

Nneka Leiba, a research analyst at EWG who works on their cosmetics and sunscreen databases suggests:

Pay attention to where a questionable chemical falls in the ingredient list. Active ingredients are cause for more concern because they can constitute a significant proportion of the product. “It’s like food. What you see first is the highest percentage.”

so what brands to buy?

Me, I don’t use sunscreen on my face. I use Wot not on my body. But to be honest, this is only when I’m out in the middle of the day.

Here’s what some of my toxin-free friends use:

Nicole Bjilsma says: Finding a sunscreen was more challenging than I thought it would be! After an extensive search of sunscreen products, I found one that I would be happy to put on my kids: 

Banana Boat Mineral Protect Sensitive

however it is thick and greasy to apply. Here is a link to my article on sunscreens.

Narelle Chenery, Director of Research and Development at Miessence shares: We make one! It’s called

Reflect Outdoor Balm. SPF 15,

(although it is actually SPF 27, we can’t claim it as such because it’s not classified as a primary sunscreen).

You can find it here.

Jess Ainscough, writer, blogger at Wellness Warrior and certified holistic health coach says: I eat a clean, plant-based diet with lots of carrot juice to build up an internal sunscreen, and then apply organic coconut oil to my skin for added protection. Since cleaning up my diet to this extreme, I never seem to get burnt! However, if you’re after an organic sunscreen off the shelf, I recommend

Wotnot or Soleo.

I recommend you also check out Jess’ recent blog post on the best natural body care brands.

Jo Immig, ecologist, freelance writer and researcher, also currently the coordinator of the National Toxics Network, says: I try to avoid using them if I can – long sleeves etc. If I have to I use

Wotnot or Soleo 

They are physical blockers (zinc) but don’t go too white, and haven’t got nanotechnology in them.

Sue Dengate, psychologist and Australian of the Year finalist 2009 and force behind Food Intolerance Network, says: I prefer to avoid unnecessary chemicals on my skin so my first choice for sun protection is to cover up with broad brimmed hats and long sleeves. If I have to wear sunscreen, I prefer a blocker rather than a chemical UV absorber. I want to avoid nanoparticles so I look for a sunscreen that is rated safe by* I want a fragrance free sunscreen due to personal intolerance and because endocrine disruptor chemicals called phthalates in many synthetic fragrances may be linked to cancer and even weight gain. And finally, I want to avoid paraben preservatives such as PABA (para amino benzoic acid). I would prefer totally preservative free but that seems impossible so my next choice is

Invisible Zinc’s Junior low irritant sunscreen with micronised zinc

* Dec 2013: Sadly, Friends of the Earth are not prepared to recommend any sunscreen at the moment, as all those sent for testing of nanoparticles came back unsafe. You can read more here

so, what about nano technology?

There is a lot of debate about nano particles and what they do. The fear is that they’re so small they seep in through our skin cells, but the jury is still out on the damage they may do. The Therapeutic Goods Act (TGA) from 2009 says:

  • The potential for nanoparticles in sunscreens to cause adverse effects depends primarily upon the ability of the nanoparticles to reach viable skin cells; and
  • To date, the current weight of evidence suggests that nanoparticles do not reach viable skin cells; rather, they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer layer of the skin that is composed of non-viable cells.

However, Australia’s Cancer Council says on it’s website that while it takes into account the TGA findings, it’s sunscreens do not contain any nanoparticles.

*updated July 2012. Thanks to a reader who directed us to this article, which states that at least 10 Australian sunscreen brands claiming to be ‘nano-free’ have inadvertently been using nano-materials in their products, causing at least one to be recalled. 

Thomas Faunce, professor of law and medicine at the ANU and an advocate of nano-technology innovation, says “There are significant concerns in relation to the way nano-particles damage cellular tissue. I don’t think there has been enough studies to conclusively say they’re safe in all applications to human beings.”

and if all else fails: a bonus home remedy for sunburn

I DO NOT advocate burning. In fact – as Jo will attest – I abhor it. But, if you get caught out, a home remedy for soothing painful sunburn is right in your kitchen cupboard – apple cider vinegar. Soak a cotton ball or small sponge in apple cider vinegar and dab it on the burned spot, or make a compress for larger areas. If severely burned, repeat two to three times a day. If you are sunburnt head-to-toe, it’s best to take a bath in the stuff – simply add 2 cups of apple cider vinegar to the tuba and soak for at least 15 minutes. Apple cider vinegar applied to skin effectively neutralizes the burn, relieves pain, and prevents blistering and peeling.
Note: you may smell like a pickle, but a little coconut oil will remove most of the odor, plus add moisture to your skin. I’ve blogged on the benefits of coconut oil before. You can read more about that here

Hope that helps…feel free to add your own advice or tips….




Related Posts with Thumbnails
  • Anthony

    When I was younger my father’s treatment for sunburn was to stand under hot water shower till the pain went, which science tells us today that this only inflames the pain. After getting badly burnt once I asked a doctor where these old wives tales come from; he said from old wives, that is why he got rid of his. Ouch


    Jenna Reply:

    Haha that is great!


  • Claire Kerslake

    Thanks for this great advice. It’s an area I’ve been a bit confused about & it’s great to have those recommendations


  • Polly

    Sarah, I know you do lots of water sports. The suns refection off the water can be just as harmful. Also, I saw a photo you posted on twitter recently (you were driving an open top car). As you say above, the sun is a lot stronger up north and I would highly recommend you take a little more care (i.e. wear a hat, cover your skin). Only a suggestion, but it would convince me more that you look after your skin.

    I grew up enjoying the Australian outdoors. At the end of summer, it was a competition to see who had the best tan. Now as I look at my sun damaged & wrinked skin, have plenty of regrets. I have spent an incredible about of money of laser resurfacing, skin care products, dermal fillers trying to reverse the damage. Looking tanned for the sake of vanity is so not worth it.


  • Lucent Imagery

    Ah… I have just spent the last 3 or 4 months doing all the same research. I had drafted a post all about it, but you have covered it so well! Having realised with the help of an allergy doctor that I am allergic to sunscreen among other things, it has been a necessary road to take. I have spent so much money trying different products and have come to the same conclusion as you for ingredients to avoid and products to use. Both are in my bathroom drawer, although I find Wotnot to be very heavy and leaves a white film. The tinted Invisible Zinc is great in that my face still looks lovely and just needs a little blush and I feel “done Up”. But overall, I have realised that with my currently quite sensitive skin that avoiding the sun in the middle of the day is still important. I layer up with a hat and long sleeved shirt for my morning errands and walks. For my sensitive skin, it seems the less I put on it, the better. So daggy covering up in clothes it is and continuing to always seek shade. Sometimes I look at other women in their singlets or dresses with no hats out in the full sun and think they look gorgeous and I feel very unfashionable. But the skin damage doesn’t seem worth it in the long run for that beauty today.


  • Rosie

    I love this one. I’ve been doing at bit the same myself recently. I tend to go outside, sans any protection but mindful that it’s not in the middle of the day and I’m not getting burnt. I’m out there at the moment, by the pool as we have scorcher day today but I’m under some shade/cover enjoying a book. If/when I do use something I use the Miessence Reflect Outdoor Balm. It works pretty well but have to rub in a bit or I stay a bit white! Great info, thanks Sarah!


  • Jan

    Maybe you should wear a burqini Sarah! With the amount of time you spend surfing and at the beach you are surely doing some long term skin damage. Take a look at Nigella Lawson & Deborah Hutton. Both 50. Nigella’s skin is flawless and took care when she was at Bondi last year covering up when she was in the sun/water. Deborah, on the other hand, admitted to being photo shopped on the cover of the AWW recently to hide her sun damaged skin.

    Sarah, your skin might look good now & you probably take good care of it. But believe me, as you start to age so will your skin. Like most of us, I bet growing up in your teens & twenties you were out there baking.

    As the slogan goes now – slip, slop, slap, slide & screen. And I would also add slurp. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids to keep both the body & skin hydrated.


  • Jodi

    Great article Sarah! I was about to ask you your thoughts on Natural Instinct brand but I see it scores top points on the Friends of Earth list – so excited I’m making the right choice for my family, it’s also super cheap! Thanks again for your wonderful information :)


  • Laura

    I think you are right about Vitamin D, Sarah – we definitely need more of it and we need to spend more time outdoors in order to get it.

    However as someone whose family member has been diagnosed with terminal melanoma, I will continue to wear sunscreen every single day. I don’t know whether these chemicals can give me cancer, but I know that the sun can. Either way, thank you for the detailed information about sunscreen ingredients, I will definitely look more closely at the labels in the future.

    BTW if the threat of cancer isn’t enough impetus, then this study may appeal to our vanity (smoking + sun): (There is a veritable source for the original study lurking online somewhere that I have referred to in the past but it seems to be missing… the picture says it all, really.)


    Kay Reply:

    Thanks for the link Laura. I just had a look and that’s pretty scary!


  • Amanda @ Easy Peasy Organic

    My all time favourite is badger balm SPF 30 – it’s zinc oxide based, and I can understand and pronounce all the ingredients! Plus it smells like lavender – yum. I agree with you about nano particles, and on their website badger says they use the largest particles that can still be somewhat absorbed. It’s great stuff, my whole family uses it :)


    Alison C Reply:

    Completely agree – LOVE the Badger range. Somehow Badger sunscreen feels “gentler” on my skin than any other sunscreen I’ve ever used, and it’s pretty good value too. I used to be a fan of Invisible Zinc products but then I read this post indicating that they actually contain nanomaterials -in aggregates and agglomerates. As a fairskinned longtime sunscreen devotee I’m also now very conscious of the need for some (controlled) sun exposure every day.


  • A

    Interesting post… I’m 35 and have never worn sunscreen, for allergy reasons and personal choice. I don’t lie around in the sun, but neither do I hide from it. Most of my friends don’t understand my approach – when I worked for women’s magazines, all my colleagues were absolutely obsessed with SPF!

    Vitamin D deficiency is a real problem in Tassie (where I grew up and now live again) – despite the fact that the sun here is very strong and we receive the greatest amount of daylight hours in the country. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to lots of unpleasant things, from asthma to mental illness to multiple sclerosis (check out the Menzies Research Institute studies).

    When I lived in Sydney, I had healthy Vit D levels. Now, back in Hobart, I have very low levels. Naturally, I do not want to end up with cancer, but sunshine is an important ingredient in a healthy immune system – so I plan to continue to avoid SPF.


  • Cheryl

    Does anyone know of a roll on type of sunscreen that is natural? My kids have to have their own sunscreen at school, and the ‘prescribed’ one is a roll on. I’ve been looking for something natural that’s still easy for them to apply before they go outside.


    Joan Reply:

    A hat, long sleeved top and the shade of a tree are the only natural sunscreens


    kim Reply:

    Natralia Nourish has a great one – you often see them in health food shops


  • kathy

    Great article!!
    i have a terrible allergy to sunscreen (as well as many other chemical based products) & i love the sun!!
    I am in the sun alot, but cover up with a big hat and long sleeved shirt & use a zinc based mineral sunscreen.
    Its good to no there are even more sunscreens around now to try out.
    I have found some quite think and gooey.


  • Alex

    All I use on my skin now is the Cancer Council SPF30+ 2 hrs water resistant. It’s a great moisturiser as I have very dry skin but after having melanoma and having some sort of surgery every year for sun damage since I was 24, I am now 50, I won’t not wear it. My skin specialist also told me that my saving grace was being brought up in an age where you had to wear full makeup and stockings to work. He commented that young people who do not wear makeup will not have very good skin on their face when they get older. PS; the CC sun block does not contain any of the nasy’s listed in your article. Now I just have to get my husband to put some on:(


    Ross Reply:

    Some of the Cancer Council’s sunblocks do contain octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC). Be sure to check the label when looking. For example: I know the CC’s Sport sunblocks do contain OMC but the Everyday sunscreens doesn’t. Goodluck.


  • Lesh@TheMindfulFoodie

    Couldn’t agree more about lack of sun/lack of vit D and health problems. A recent Oz study ( has show almost one-third of adults over the age of 25 have a Vitamin D deficiency. Read more about the importance of safe sun exposure here: This article is written by an Aussie Ayurvedic practitioner, Mark Bunn.


    Kim Reply:

    Thanks for the Mark Bunn link -just had a read and he covers a lot of good info.


  • Mathew

    Interesting little article Sarah, again I should say.

    I had to take a look at my sunscreen even tho I knew it was zinc cream. It contains 20% Zinc Oxide with two preservatives Diazolidinyl urea & Phenxyethanol.

    I work outside a lot so I need a protectant other than slip & slap as it just gets too hot out there to wear too many cloths.

    Thanks for another good one girl!!


  • Sue

    Was reading your article…..especially about the nasties in sunscreen. When i was a teenager, I bought PABA tablets to take so that I wouldn’t burn in the sun thinking I was doing something good for my body. It appears that PABA’s are not created equal after reading this:
    Also, the other side of the coin is that the prevalent use of toxic sunscreens actually contribute to skin cancer, not prevent it!


  • Kim

    This has answered a lot of my questions! Growing up in Brisbane and spending lots of time at the beach, I was never allowed out without sunscreen. I’ve been reading a lot about vitamin d lately and have been making an effort to spend some time in the sun in the early morning (sans sunscreen) but, I must admit, it feels naughty.

    Thanks for the article – lots to think about!



  • June

    From my research & experimenting with a friend with red hair, who burnt very easily.
    Virgin Coconut oil is the very best for a sunscreen, also good for the skin as a moisturiser, it can be used on the hair as well.


  • Joan

    Thank you, Sarah, for this article. I saw a program on TV a few years ago, where a plastic surgeon was talking about the use of sunscreens. He basically said the exact things that you wrote in your article. I had a gut feeling that sunscreens were a bad idea, based on my experience of being allergic to most of them. It was empowering to hear that my observations were valid. Keep up the good work Sarah.


  • Catherine

    I’ve started using Natural Instincts for a lot of products. Incredibly Well priced, less of the harmful stuff & seems to do the job.


  • Nutrishus8 Trish Doheny

    I have german and irish heritage, so while I do tan, I usually burn first. Thus, I have pretty fair skin and its recommended for people like me to use sunscreen daily even in the winter. I just started using Trader Joe’s brand “enrich” moisturizing face lotion SPF 15. It’s fragrance free, light, non-greasy, PABA free, non-comedogenic, and it contains 3% zinc oxide and 6% octinoxate as the active ingredients. i love it so far, and it’s actually a great base before putting on makeup. Even in this dry winter my face is soft and moisturized! Not sure if you have Trader Joe’s in Australia, but if not maybe consider buying it on amazon or ebay. I like it a lot! Also, thanks for this article, Sarah! great info. xoxTrish


  • Nutrishus8 Trish Doheny

    I have German and Irish heritage, so while I do tan, I usually burn first. Thus, I have pretty fair skin and it’s recommended for people like me to use sunscreen daily–even in the winter. I just started using Trader Joe’s brand “enrich” moisturizing face lotion SPF 15. It’s fragrance free, light, non-greasy, PABA free, non-comedogenic, and it contains 3% zinc oxide and 6% octinoxate as the active ingredients. I love it so far, and it’s actually a great base before putting on makeup. Even in this dry winter my face is soft and moisturized! Not sure if you have Trader Joe’s in Australia, but if not maybe consider buying it on amazon or ebay. I like it a lot! Also, thanks for this article, Sarah! great info. xoxTrish


  • Mia Bluegirl

    Thank you Sarah, that’s a really handy reference!

    If I’m only out in the sun a few minutes I don’t bother with sunscreen, as vitamin D is very important to thyroid function. However, I do use it quite frequently as I am in the sun a lot. I don’t plan to give up my love of the beach any time soon, and you don’t need to be a regular sunbaker to get burnt! Here in Perth today, for example, it’s 41 degrees. It was about 32 degrees at 6am. Without stating the obvious, that’s really REALLY hot. You’ve got about four minutes of that kind of heat without starting to get crispy!

    One thing I have noticed though, is if I get a few minutes of sun every few days, I rarely burn. However, last year I spent every day that I was outside in a full wetsuit and as such did not get much sun exposure, and now I burn really easily.


  • lisa

    Great article Sarah, I recently wrote something similar. As a pale, freckly, fair-haired gal (just sooo beachy!) sunscreen has been a regular part of my routine during summer months (I use Soleo).

    Anyway, after researching and writing the sunscreen article I contacted The Circle with a segment idea called ‘The Sunscreen Debate’. (I have been on before as their ‘Sustainability Expert’ – though I am far from an expert!)

    After reading through my outline, which was not in any way outrageous or advocating not using sunscreen at all, the Producer was really keen. But then I received an email saying that the Cancer Council doesn’t support my position. It made me really upset that information that I found interesting and useful (as in – we can totally point people in the right direction for what they should look for in a safe and effective sunscreen IF they want to use it, but otherwise promote healthy sun exposure to improve the Vitamin D deficiencies we’ve got going on) was NOT getting to the very people who are most at risk and use the stuff a lot. There are clear question marks around sunscreen, as you have outlined and even the Australian Education Union, Victoria branch, has recommended that nanoparticle sunscreen not be used in schools until further research can prove its safety

    After the Circle incident, I found out that an Australian-owned company making gorgeous natural skincare products had been ordered by the TGA to take down their extremely neutral yet informative webpage on sunscreens (apparently a webpage is considered an advertisement). They don’t even sell a sunscreen so it wasn’t promoting their brand over another, just very similar information to what you have provided here with links to reputable studies that back up their position.

    Due to the fact that sunscreen is considered a therapeutic good, it’s efficacy and safety cannot be questioned in an advertisement. I wonder whether you will be contacted….!?

    It’s super frustrating that there is not more public awareness around this stuff, and I fear that the massive industry, that is sun protection, might have something to do with it… Especially if the TGA are acting as the Sunscreen Police and silencing any of us who question it!!

    Well done on another awesome post xx


  • miss jodi

    hi everyone
    check out ‘soleo organics’ for chemical free sunscreen at

    their sunscreen rocks. been using it for a while. good luck



  • thecjcs

    A timely article. Just about to head to Cook Islands for 6 weeks. Bought the Cancer Council Kids one reading all the labels in the shop – this one seemed like the most ‘friendly one’ but knowing now that it’s full of OMC as a first ingredient and the effects – I don’t think so?? Yeah put that on your kids people, it’ll stop them burning on the outside – but probably cook them on the inside.

    I’ll go back to Soleo – but it’s hard to find where I live.



    thecjcs Reply:

    maybe they should call it “The Cause Cancer Council”. Only a suggestion.


    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    Having read the ingredients on the back of the breast cancer fundraiser beauty products, I agree with your last statement.


  • molly oneill

    I have found a really great product, perfect for surfing/water sports or sports in general.
    It is called ‘Surf Yogis’ and I found it on a recent trip to Bali. The only ingredients are Organic Bee’s wax, coconut oil, cocoa powder and zinc oxide. It is thick and does have a slight purple colour, so not so great for every day use. But it feels amazing on, and we all know that not only is it good for our skin and bodies, it is great for the environment too! It comes in a really cute 100% recycled container and lasts forever. Not too sure of many stockists, as it is all made in Bali, but swimwear store in Byron Bay Muther Of All Things are carrying ‘Surf Yogis’ and I am sure it would be available online…
    enjoy xx


  • Katherine in London

    Brilliant article, thanks Sarah!

    I haven’t seen the sun for about 3 months now as it’s winter here, but when it eventually starts shining again I’m going to track down a good Zinc Oxide sunscreen. I plan to check out Whole Foods which has an excellent range of organic, chemical-free skin care.

    On the other hand, I’m definitely worried about a vitamin D deficiency. I’ve been taking Vitamin D tablets but I’m still rather worried. I’ve never been so pale in my life!


  • Karen

    I have pale white Irish skin and I burn so I stay out of the harsh sun and usually cover up MOST of the time. I try to get a little pure sun as I know it’s good.

    Chemical sunscreens scare me and I only use when swimming in the hot hours.

    I make my own cream but you could buy an inexpensive plain one – then I mix zinc oxide in. Usually at the rate of 20% – it looks like a lot and remember this is weight not volume. I get it from it’s white so I usually just add a little bronzing powder or blush to take the scare away as I’m already pretty white. No chemicals natural preservatives it makes me breathe a little deeper. I think seoc may sell cream bases as well if not try

    I had allergies so I learnt to make my own creams etc. terrifying once you learn the ingredients. It made me want to run to the country and drop out!

    Finding the right balance. Thanks Sarah awesome article and I’m inspired to get some more pure sun now. I knew it was important but I didn’t realize just how much!


  • Karen

    Thanks for this Sarah. I’ve been experimenting with different types and had found Wotnot a little too sticky so I wasn’t using it, then Invisible Zinc which I’ve found very drying. Next up the Banana Boat mineral one, fingers crossed!


  • Nadia Marshall

    Thanks Sarah! After taking up surfing recently I’ve been wondering what to use. I try to just use it on my nose… Its funny, I’ve always been allergic to any chemicals with ‘ben’ in them… it all began with a topex experiment (which contains benol peroxide) when I was 15 – I effectively gave myself a chemical peel! This is GREAT information xx Nadia


  • Ivan

    Oh boy; do you come up with some topics that have been on my mind for decades.

    The following is interesting to me, but of course can be intrepeted many ways…

    My uncle is a mad-keen fisherman.
    He used Pink kniZ (brand obscured) for many decades on his nose and under his eyes.. because he believed that was the most prone to sun damage.
    All his skin cancers that have appeared recently have only appeared in the areas that the Pink Zink was put on.

    To me, that says that the protection wasn’t effective against at least long term sun exposure.

    I get irrated with advice on the TV saying to put on sunscreen because skin cancer is increasing.
    Have those people ever realised that people aren’t stupid, and have been putting on sunscreen religiously for decades.
    I have always thought that it is the sunscreens, life-style, and all the gunk in their tissues, that are the cause; and not sun exposure.
    Especially when researchers in England got critized as irrisponsible, for publishing that sunscreen does not effect sun cancer.

    Another irritation is sunglasses.
    Sunglasses are valid for motorcycle riders, because they have no reliable glare protection. That is the only reason why I don’t ride one. I would absolutely love to ride the new long distance electric bike out presently, but won’t go near sunglasses.

    The main thing that I remember about optometrists is that they are there to sell glasses… not to improve my eye-sight; and not to protect me using a skewed intreptation of statistics.
    That is why I have taken their sunglass advice with a grin of salt.
    I shake my head (to myself) when I see kids with sunglasses. I think “you poor people, getting your eyesight ruined” all in the name of a swift buck, and a nod to safety to suck parents in.



  • Jas

    Stockhouse or Stokehouse???


    Jas Reply:

    ps. you and Matt make a lovely looking couple.


  • Cheryl

    I saw some possible options that I hadn’t seen previously when I had a good look at sunscreens at Woolworths yesterday. Wondered if anyone has tried these or had a closer look at them:
    1. Select Clear Zinc — no chemical absorbers and fragrance free
    2. Natural Instinct baby micro-mineral sunscreen — free from chemical UV filters, nano particles, titanium dioxide, PABA, mineral oils, parabens and fragrances.


  • amyer

    Would be interested to hear if there are any non-toxic fake tanners out there. Not interested in ’embrace your white skin’ reply comments, thanks in advance!


    Rachael Reply:

    Anything with that much color added to is has gotta contain some kind of toxins.


    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    Make-up has colour. And there are better and worse versions of that. Same with hair dye. Probably best not to use them at all in a perfect world, but for those of us who will use them anyway, it would be great to use the least toxic version available! I would be interested in an answer to amyer’s question also, if anybody has one.


    Kelly Reply:

    Hi yes, Organic fake tans exist!
    Eco Tan is Australia’s first and only CERTIFIED ORGANIC tan. We sell a gorgeous self tanner or offer organic spray tans too. You can read more about Eco Tan on their website which is or if you are in Brisbane, you can find me on Facebook


    Kelly Reply:

    P.S. Cacao (chocolate) is used for the colour!


    MirandaBB Reply:

    I noticed an organic tanning product called Eco Tan at my local health food shop (Go Vita). Their website is and it looks like stocks it online.


    amyer Reply:

    Thanks, I’ll check this out. :)


  • SunSmartVic

    Cancer Council has done and reviewed a lot of research into the area of sunscreen. The evidence shows that sunscreen has been proven to reduce the risk of skin cancer, both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer so it could be in fact dangerous to your health to ditch your advice of not using sunscreen. Skin cancer claims more than 1,830 lives each year in Australia and we urge Australians to continue to protect themselves with all five sun protection measures when ultraviolet (UV) radiation is at damaging levels.

    But don’t rely on sunscreen alone – always combine with clothing, hats, shade and sunglasses too. When picking out a sunscreen, go for sunscreen you like wearing and that suits your skin type and activity rather than relying on price or brand but make sure it’s SPF 30+, water resistant and broad spectrum. In laboratory conditions SPF 30+ sunscreen filters 96.7% of UV radiation but we know that people only put on a third to a half of the amount of sunscreen that they should and often forget to reapply every 2 hours.

    The sun protection factor (SPF) number on sunscreens indicates the degree of protection it offers against UV radiation. All sunscreens sold in Australia with SPF of 4 and above are listed on the Australian Register of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and, tightly- we have some of the highest standards in the world. In the blog, you mention EWG, which is US based for more information specific for Australia see

    Vitamin D, which is made through a series of chemical process that start when your skin is exposed to UV, is crucial for bone and muscle development and in the prevention of osteoporosis. There have also been links with an increased risk of bowel cancer, heart disease, infections and auto-immune diseases, although more research is needed for any conclusive evidence to be derived.

    Although sunscreens has been shown in lab conditions to almost entirely block the production of cutaneous previtamin D3, in practice they have not been shown not to not greatly decrease vitamin D levels over time. This has been put down to people not using enough sunscreen and because people using sunscreens may also expose themselves to more sun than non-sunscreen users. When the UV is above three during summer in the southern parts of Australia, and all year round in the north, most of us need only a few minutes a day of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon to the face, arms and hands (or equivalent area), to help with our vitamin D levels. In winter in the southern parts of Australia, where UV radiation levels are below 3 all day, most of us need about two to three hours of midday winter sun exposure spread over each week to the face, arms and hands (or equivalent area). People with naturally very dark skin may need 3-6 times this amount. Daily exercise will also assist your body with the production of vitamin D.

    Prolonged sun exposure does not result in your vitamin D levels increasing further, but does increase your risk of skin cancer. Short incidental exposure to the sun, such as walking from the office to get lunch, is the best way to produce vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D you make is also related to the amount of skin exposed to the sun – if you expose more of your skin, in most cases you’ll make more vitamin D.

    To find out when you do and don’t need sun protection, the free SunSmart app for smart phones is a handy tool that includes a vitamin D tracker, sunscreen calculator and daily sun protection reminder function. For more information on skin cancer, UV and vitamin D, go to


    Michelle Reply:

    Thank you for taking the time to add your voice to this discussion. I truly appreciate open, calm debate with lots of good data so I can make my own informed decisions.


  • Carolina Gonzalez@Natureofbalance

    Thank you so much for this fab article…. We use and recommend wot not!


  • Emma Mitchell

    Hi Sarah, have you tried the new MooGoo SPF15 anti-ageing face cream? (I know you’ve used the Milk Wash). It’s only just been released and it is amazing. My skin drinks it in, and even though it contains non-nano zinc oxide, it doesn’t look white at all (in fact the cream is purple). They’re releasing a body sunscreen in a few months. Definitely worth a look (


    lisa Reply:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE moogoo!


    amyer Reply:

    I wanted to love Moo Goo but their eczema cream made my skin worse! :( I could feel a burning sensation from the moment I put it on (I tried it a few times to be sure). Must have an allergy to something in the ingredients. Back to QV cream for me!


  • Amy

    so interesting you have written about this. I went to my natropath not long ago and he is completely against ALL sunscreens. Even the organic/natural sunscreens. In a nutshell he said they have cancer agents in them (what doesnt these days?). contradicting to say the least if it is true anyway. He said he had studies done on a number of foundations with sunscreen in them and found the same results.

    Why do they need to use harmful chemicals in every bloody! thing we do!?


  • elle

    I think its really dangerous to write this article advising people not to use sunscreen. We live in Australia where the sun is so harsh and where skin cancer is very common! Sunscreen is an important preventative. Would you really rather not wear sunscreen than get cancer?


    Michelle Reply:

    Elle, I think you missed Sarah’s point. She advocates avoiding the use of sunscreen wherever possible and using alternatives to avoid being burnt – hat, long sleeves, staying out of the sun during the middle of the day. But, if you do need to use it, then she provides less dangerous alternatives to the mainstream-nano-cancer-causing junk we’ve been lead to believe we need.

    What’s dangerous is that the Australian population has been convinced we need lots of sunscreen without a full understanding of the negative side effects of it’s use. Cancer strikes fear in all of us, but we shouldn’t just blindly follow what we are told to use to avoid it, we need to make informed decisions. Remember, everyone thought DDT was great too for a while.

    Sunscreen can give you cancer. Safe, sensible exposure to the sun will prevent cancer and is vital for our bodies to function optimally.

    As with just about everything in modern life, a few simple lifestyle adjustments can save us from unnecessary exposure to chemicals. I truly appreciate access to blogs like this that open my mind to the alternatives, which I can then assess and make informed decisions for my family.


  • Pingback: Vitamin D — are you getting enough? « The Mindful Foodie()

  • Jess @ Sparrow + See

    So I guess this means that my beloved Garnier BB Cream with itsSPF 15 is bad for me! That sucks, it leaves such a clean, dewy finish on my skin. Will have to start trying out alternatives…


  • Pingback: Natural skincare playshop | natureglow()

  • oriental massage

    You really smashed it with a fantastic posting with a lot
    of good information and facts


  • Pingback: surprise surprise – the sun is good for you « lioninthevillage()

  • Asthma Cures Natural

    Terrific article! This is the type of info that should be shared across the
    net. Disgrace on Google for no longer positioning
    this put up higher! Come on over and discuss with my web site .

    Thank you =)


  • samantha mann

    Try Sun Putty. It’s a great natural sunscreen that really has helped my skin.


  • Pingback: Toxin-free beauty: why I use oils | Sarah Wilson()

  • Erin
  • Melanoma is horrid

    Hi all,

    I recognise the need to be aware of the ingredients of what we put on/in our bodies and I’m on a massive health/life change road myself right now. I’ve come across this article by Sarah and I just wanted to offer advice that if you choose not to use any type of sunscreen please cover your body in the most possible ways and avoid sun except for the few minutes required for vit d…..I’m currently watching 2 people in my life die painful deaths because of the insidious disease of melanoma- one the cancer started on his earlobe and the other on the back of his leg. It is now riddled throughout their bodies and will not see out the year. To top it off my son was born with a condition that puts him at a 40% higher risk than the average person to contract/develop melanoma at some stage of his life so we’ve spent the past 3 years researching the best skin protection for him. We certainly can never avoid him wearing sunscreens but try to limit its use by only ever having him in the sun in the coolest parts of the day- in summer we even try to avoid it entirely by visiting parks of an evening. He always has on a broad brim hat, long sleeves for as much as the year as possible and longer length shorts in summer. Please don’t be naive and think that just because your not burnt you’re not affecting your skin because damage is done well before you realise you’ve burnt your skin.


  • Pingback: your local markets New South Wales :: Cutting out the crap: skin, hair & body products()

  • Paul Luxford

    As a website owner that sells organic sunscreen, I think this article really hits the spot of what is important to look out for when purchasing a sunscreen.

    Ever since I started using organic sunscreen as opposed to other non organic, chemical ladened products, I feel safer out in the sun. I am also a sport pilot and having a sunscreen that feels great on my skin and protects me is really great!

    I sell and use the Wotnot sunscreen and I think it is the best. Thank you and God Bless you Sarah for this in-depth article. Well written and worth the read.


  • Pingback: Protecting your children’s skin | All about mama()

  • Margaret

    I just adopted a hairless Chinese Crested dog who needs sunscreen. Zinc oxide is very toxic for these dogs and I’ve been reading so much scary information about the chemicals in our sunscreens. I was told titanium dioxide is OK but can’t seem to find a safe sunscreen without the harmful chemicals. I live in Florida and the sun is very intense so much of the day that I really hate putting his pajamas on him for sun protection. They do cover almost all of him. I welcome suggestions.


  • Pingback: Wearing Sunscreen Everyday | 초롱이 ★  ごきげんよう()

  • Pingback: My Cycling Essentials | Miranda's Wellness()

  • Pingback: Choosing a ‘safe’ sunscreen | Aalaveda Lifestyle Co()

  • Pingback: Sunscreen…choices…arrggghhhh | The Trusted Trolley()

  • Chantal

    Please update your article to include the 2014 studies showing that even if nanoparticles are absorbed into the skin, our macrophages are able to break them down before they reach the bloodstream.
    I could be wrong, but last time I checked the periodic table, Zinc was listed as an element, ergo it is a chemical, thereby making any zinc based sunscreen, a chemical one.
    (On a tangent, you do realise that human beings are just huge bunches of long chain proteins expressed from DNA i.e chemicals!)
    Do you have any references for how coconut ingestion acts as a form of sun protection? I could almost believe the idea has merit given my sub continental heritage and lack of skin burn, but we still deserve to see the references.
    Please also include references to any medical experience you have, as you seen to be very free in giving out health advice. And no, naturopathy is not medical!

    Oh, wait. Sarah Wilson has no medical credentials. So before you stop using sunscreen and increase your risk of skin cancer, just dwell on that FACT for a moment.


    visitor Reply:

    Agreed. its great to have so much info on sunscreens in one spot but it would be better if it was backed up with hard science not just opinions of people who sell things.
    I have vitiligo, we are often told to use heavy sunscreens but for me it has just increased the vitiligo! so I definitely empathise with the whole “clean sunscreen” idea and appreciate the effort in the research…But I am sitting here researching a melanoma assignment looking at stats and I think it’s a little irresponsible of Sarah infers that you’re only at risk of melanoma if you burn. Untrue. its’ cumulative or repeated exposure. There are certain skin types that are at risk every time they step outside. physical coverage is the only way. from what I read so far melanoma would get someone way before the chemicals in the sunscreen did. don’t tell people you don’t wear sunscreen because chemicals but you are happy to dye your hair. (which can cause bladder cancer). Unqualified people with large audiences need to have 32pt font disclaimer that they are unqualified to give publish scientific information or medical advice.


  • Frank

    Wotnot contains fragrances in their sunscreen named naticide so I personally don’t recommend this sunscreen for anyone with sensitive skin. Sure going “white” might not be all that appealing but the aim here is to not get burnt! Melanoma or whiter skin? Hmmm I think ill go for the whiter skin for a few hours thanks. Also to actually advise to be out in the sun at 8am-10am without sunscreen for 40 mins is very very irresponsible. Its definitely possible to get burnt at that time and I don’t recommend it, especially in the Australian Summer.


  • Lotte

    Thanks for this great information! I love the Broad Spectrum SPF30 sunscreen of DeVita! Love X


  • Pingback: The best toxin-free deodorant: an upfront guide. | Sarah Wilson()

  • Pingback: my daily health routine…since you asked for it | Sarah Wilson()

  • Pingback: Shannon’s Top Toxin-Free Tips – Purely Thriving()

  • Pingback: Back to School Basics for a Purely Thriving Year – Purely Thriving()

  • Jess

    Stop spreading utter nonsense like carrots can protect you from skin cancer. I don’t care if your friend said it, not you, it’s your site and despite all your other great work, stuff like this is really disappointing. Also, see knew Vitamin D guidelines. This post needs an update.


  • OscarTheCat

    I thought “octinoxate” was a NOT GOOD THING??


  • Pingback: VEGGIE MAGNIFIQUE | Healthy Summer Travels()

  • Pingback: VEGGIE MAGNIFIQUE | Mes astuces pour un été sain()